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The Good News on Common-Core Tests


Elizabeth Duffey

The work of Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system can provide information and tools for teachers and schools to improve instruction and help students succeed—regardless of disability, language or subgroup. Smarter Balanced involves experienced educators, researchers, state and local policymakers, and community groups working together in a transparent and consensus-driven process.

—From the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium website.

SBAC is one of two consortia writing the assessments that will measure progress on the Common Core State Standards beginning in the Spring of 2015. The mission statement gives me hope about the future of standardized testing; the Common Core State Standards give me hope about the future of education.

For too long, standardized test data have been misused, and perhaps the most insidious misuse of test results is teacher evaluation. One of the reasons the Garfield teachers revolted against the MAP test, among others, was the idea that the results were used in part to measure teacher effectiveness. Even if the MAP data were not flawed at the 9th grade level as the Garfield teachers assert, using a test for teacher evaluation is just plain wrong. Too many factors enter into what a student brings to the testing table: the number of words a student has been exposed to at home, the quality of instruction beginning in preschool, possible drug impairment, seriousness with which students take the test, language issues—and hundreds more that teachers cannot control.

The good news is that teacher evaluation is moving in the direction of standards and rubrics to measure teacher performance. In our district, the standards are the Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning (5-D) from the Center for Educational Leadership out of the University of Washington. Other districts use Charlotte Danielson or Robert Marzano. They're all good standards and assessments, written by the smartest people in our profession—just as the common-core standards and their subsequent assessments are. Let's keep student assessment of learning and teacher assessment of pedagogy separate. The temptation to mix them up is great—AP teachers love to brag about their scores—but student scores were never meant to measure teacher performance.

The SBAC mission asserts the true purpose of standardized testing: to inform teachers and building and district leaders of student performance so they can focus their time and resources on improving the quality of instruction. This will help every student meet the new standard of being ready for college and the requirements of 21st-century jobs.

After 37 years as a high school English teacher, Elizabeth Duffey took a position as facilitator of instruction in literacy in the Tacoma Public Schools. A National Board-certified teacher, she also works as a trainer for the ELA Common Core Standards in her district and as a consultant for the College Board.

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